Back when Derek Taylor called it the industry of human happiness, the music business attracted into its bosom all sorts of functionaries whose precise role was unclear yet whose contributions were crucial to the oiling of its wheels. Duckers and divers par excellence, one day they’d be managing a band, the next promoting a show or doing a bit of PR for someone, the next working as someone’s road manager or general ‘fixer’, and the next hooking one musician up with another so that the sum of both talents was greater than as individuals. These people seemed to know everyone who was worth knowing and had a knack for being in the right place at the right time, and when I was in the midst of it all I met many of them, in both the UK and America, often unintentionally, and whenever I did they invariably welcomed me into their midst and turned out to be hugely entertaining company.
What they had in common was that they were smooth, well-travelled, well-tailored individuals who never lost their cool, and Emilio ‘Mim’ Scala fits the role perfectly. I didn’t actually get to know him until 1980, when he was operating out of an office building in Newman Passage which also housed a PR company called TNT, one of whose directors was my girlfriend, name of Jenny. She was in awe of him, and although neither of us were quite sure precisely what he did, somehow or other we found ourselves drawn into situations in which Mim was involved, the strangest of which was a visit to the UK by Mortimer Planno, a renowned Rastafarian elder, whose temporary lodgings in Notting Hill Jenny and I visited together. It was a bit smoky in there. Danny Simms, the Jamaican music entrepreneur who was among the first in this line of work to finance and promote Bob Marley, was another and I seem to recall meeting Rita Marley around the same time too, and helping Jenny write a press release about the purpose of her visit to the UK.
Then Jenny and I parted company and Mim went off my radar until I was editing a book on Marianne Faithfull and there he was again, escorting her to New York to appear on Saturday Night Live, a hazardous assignment since Marianne was prone to lapses in judgement involving substance abuse that impacted on her ability to remain standing, let alone perform. Somehow or other, Mim rescued a tricky situation, and this episode is just one of the 57 short chapters that make up his roller-coaster ride of a life, all documented in Diary of a Teddy Boy: A Life Lived Well, first published in 2001 with a different subtitle but now updated and available again as a hardback.
The grandson of an Italian immigrant, Mim simply wasn’t cut out for the conventional life. Barely out of his teens, he found himself in a number of scrapes, one of which involved his exposure to rock’n’roll via Blackboard Jungle (1955) and a bust-up in the cinema, another a gambling den visited by the Kray Twins. Hanging out around Soho and the King’s Road, he became a movie extra – where he encountered future Led Zep manager Peter Grant as a Macedonian warrior, on the set of Cleopatra (1963) – then found a berth as a booking agent, representing both actors and musicians, many of whom would become household names.
Next Mim hit the hippy trail, hanging out in places where the weather enforced a minimal of clothing, squiring beauties, some of them from landed families, doing a bit of painting and recording ethnic music in Morocco, Spain and Sri Lanka. Returning to the UK, he worked for Island Records for a while, which explains the Jamaican connection, and went on to manage record producers, among them Chris Kimsey, who worked with the Stones, another act he’d befriended in the sixties, Brian and Keith – the least conventional ones, of course – in particular. Later in the eighties, he reformed The Animals, jammed with Jimmy Page and discovered that Marlon Brando loved faking loud farts in public.
If there is a theme to his book, it is that Mim was a lucky so-and-so, and that life was better when he was in his prime. Moving from the fifties to the sixties, Mim’s world changes from black and white to colour, and if you were in the right place, and had the nerve to stay there regardless of life’s ups and downs, the ride was unforgettable. Each of Mim’s 57 chapters details a different adventure, some of them wild, others hilarious, involving a cast of characters that make up a Who’s Who of the music and film world, weapons grade name-dropping on just about every page. And he isn’t kidding – when the first edition of this book was published there was a launch party I attended at which John Hurt gave a reading.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to point out that for all the fun and games it relates, the book is on the sloppy side as regards editorial precision. In a brief foreword, Mim explains that he is dyslexic and wrote the book “with as little help as possible from copy readers, ghost writers or editors”. He isn’t kidding there either, so be prepared to overlook some odd chronological lurches, slapdash editing and typesetting, and Townshend without an h.